Well, I have no excuse for this over month long delay in wrapping up our blog! I am sorry for the time lapse, but thank all of you dedicated readers who are all still anxiously awaiting to hear about the last few weeks of our trip, which were undescribable. As we mentioned in our last blog post, we found ourselves with a LONG to do list and only a short time to complete it all. Instead of chronological order, we’ll go in subject order. It seems the easiest way tie up all the details.
Oh, the chairs! A labor of LOVE. Lots of love. We spent weeks on what seemed like the never ending project. The real charmer about these chairs, however, was the day when we went to pick up the wood, just a few days before we were scheduled to leave, which was supposed to have the holes drilled in order to screw the seats and backs of the chairs and footrests in. Little to our knowledge, we show up to the shop and boy do things look different! I didn’t even initially recognize where we were...I thought we pulled up to the wrong part of the street. Sure enough, correct area, but the store was gone. I don’t mean the store was emptied out...I mean the store was GONE. The walls and roof and floor of the store were gone, and in it’s place, the dirt ground with a square outline of what once was a woodshop that we were standing in a few days prior. We managed to speak with a kid, maybe 12 years old, that told us the story. Apparently, despite owning the shop and the area on which it was located, the owner had been removed by the government who was reclaiming this last for something else. According to one of our friends, it might only be a matter of time before all these small businesses were scooted out so the government could do something else with the land. Fortunately, the boy knew where we could find the new shop. He hopped in our contracted van and lead us to the new location, in a nice, but plan storefront located on the first floor of an apartment building. Because of the relocation, the owner didn’t have time to drill the holes for us. He promised they would be ready by tomorrow morning, a Sunday, of which they didn’t usually work. Sure enough, Sunday afternoon I picked up the wood with Yemamu, dressed in his Sunday best for church, which happened to be a suit that was given to him by an American friend for his school graduation. Luckily, the new shop wasn’t located far from our house, which made it easier. In the meantime, Keely was in the mercado, hoping to pick up the last few necessities to finish off the chairs. To our dismay, she called, reporting that the mercado was deserted (a sight we never thought we’d see!). Because it was a Sunday, all the stores were closed up. She managed to find an open air second hand sale where she was atleast able to purchase the much needed bolts, allowing us to get the wood bolted to the chair frames. That day was spent sanding furiously, wood dust filling the air and the clothes of those who were kind enough to help us (thank you Yemamu, Keely S. and Misfin!), using our tools to tighten the final joints and spray painting to make the chairs look a little nicer. Monday, our last day in Ethiopia (literally...we left that night) Keely and I split up to divide and conquer. She went back to the mercado and have a few final pieces of fabric sewn for the covers of our head and lateral supports for Elshaday’s chair and picked up the miscellaneous items we had run out of or just never knew we needed. I ran last minute errands around town, picking up folders and markers, getting copies made and pictures printed. Monday afternoon, later than we had hoped but in enough time to finish it all up, we contracted a public minibus taxi that we loaded our proud masterpieces in that swept us off to Kebebtsehay for the last time. Once arriving, the kids were SO helpful in transporting and assisting us with the fitting of the chairs. We brought each kiddo out, one by one...Elshaday, Baletta, Yordi. We cut back the foam of our cushions, set the footrest at the right height, and belted them in. As we stepped back to check out the final product, they turned out better than we could have ever anticipated. The kiddos sat up straight, proper pelvic position, supported trunk. Beautiful. We spent a few minutes teaching a few of the caregivers, as well as Yemamu, how to properly position and secure the kiddos in place. Elshaday’s chair was the most involved...requiring not only a lap seat belt, but a chest harness in addition to lateral and head supports. His chair was set at approximately an 85 or so degree angle of hip flexion to trunk position, but it was tilted backward to discourage his head and trunk from falling forward due to his low tone and inability to work against gravity. These chairs were more involved than we ever thought they could be, but we are so proud of the final product and hear that they have worked out really well for feeding and spending time out of their crib. I can’t wait until we can get back to Ethiopia and see them again.
Our white board. A project that was finished thanks to the dedication of those who stayed beyond Keely O. and I. Although the board was planned out on a piece of white board, Keely S. and Yemamu took care of ensuring the board was completed. On one side, it listed the daily scheduled that was created during the afternoon portion of our caregiver education program. Feeding, napping and showering times were all built in, in addition to our newly agreed upon times including outside play, out of crib time for the babies and inside play time. Another portion of the board was used for reminders. Reminders to hold feed the babies, change children’s positions in cribs, wash your hands after changing diapers...all the little things we’re hoping really sunk in after our training sessions. The final section of the white board was left blank...purposefully. A portion dedicated to notes. Notes for the caregivers to write to each other about who is sick, who needs medication, who hasn’t eaten...all the really important things that don’t seem to always get transmitted during caregiver shift changes because of all the normal commotion. Keely sent us a picture of the final product, hung and in place. We were so lucky to have people on the ground when we left who cared enough to really spend some time ensuring our work was finished and implemented. Again, thank you Keely S. and Yemamu.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to head out to the countryside, to Awasa, for two days. We experienced a side of Ethiopia we hadn’t seen in the previous seven weeks. The terrain changed during the drive from dry and desert/tundra-esque, to green and lush and beautiful. We saw the fields being plowed by hand, one countryside Ethiopian and one bull with a primitive handmade plow. It was amazing. We met a mother of three, who was pregnant with a fourth. Living in their modest thatch house, one of these boys, with only a shirt on, was shivering from the cold. I have never seen so many flies on one child...they surrounded his eyes, some even encroaching the eye itself. He never even flinched, while my first reaction still when a fly lands on me is to shoo it off, no matter how stubborn it seems. Keely put it well...this just demonstrated the enormous societal complexity that surrounds the rapidly increasing number of children in this nation. Awasa housed an amazing number of street children. As the largest city in Eastern Ethiopia (according to our friend Alex), many children whose parents pass away often walk into this city. Overall, this was an amazing trip that allowed us to experience the country in a different way than we had in Addis.
Sunday evening, the day before we left, we took a few hour hiatus from working on the chairs to surprise the older kiddos at Kebebtsehay with a movie night. We had this cleared with the director, Asenake, from a few days before, but we were just hoping and praying there would be electricity at the orphanage that night! If our seven weeks in Ethiopia taught us anything, it was to prepare for anything, as water and electricity outages cannot be predicted. Fortunately, lights were on and the kids were surprised!!! As soon as we stepped inside, we were greeted with surprised smiles and hugs. I took a minute to peek into the baby/toddler room and was welcomed with the usual "Kellllllyyyy, Kellllllyyyy, Kellllyyy" chants. Sounds that still bring a smile to my face and almost tears to my eyes. It was bath time and I didn’t want to cause too much commotion, so I slipped back out as quietly as one can once your name is being chanted by 8 or so beautiful little kiddos. It was such a nice time for us to see Kebebtsehay. We have never been there at night, and it just felt so comfortable with the relationships we had built to sit back in the evening and watch a movie. A few weeks prior, someone generously donated a tv and DVD player to the orphanage, so we had these surprise plans in our heads for some time. We picked up a few DVDs (some of which were specifically requested by the older boys!) which included Bolt, Madagascar 2 (not 1! they were very specific about this!) and Superman. We enjoyed Bolt, although having been purchased on the street (we didn’t know where else to get them besides the mercado, and our experience there was just as sketchy) we were a little wary of the quality of the "authentic" (we were assured it was authentic...hmmmm) DVD. Minus a few parts that required a little intervention of fast forwarding, rewinding, pulling out to clean and replaying in order to get past the skips, it went over pretty well. We were so lucky to have the chance to see these kids in the evening in their "home" environment. It was amazing to sit back and really take it all in.
Orthotic devices. These proved to be a bit of a challenge! After multiple trips to the orthotic and prosthetic clinic, different hospitals and doctors offices, we finally were able to get prescriptions we didn’t know we needed in order to have the foot orthoses made. Unfortunately (or fortunately, because we’re not sure he would have gotten the care he needed had we not already been at the government hospital), Elshaday came down with a high fever and was obviously ill while we were at the hospital. He was "admitted," which we thought would mean he would be going to the inpatient hospital facility in a hospital room, diagnosed with severe pneumonia. We were told he would be receiving a G tube, to which we rejoiced! Although Ethiopia does not perform G tube placements for permanent solutions, we were just excited he would be getting proper nourishment for at least a few days while he tried to recover from this bout of pneumonia since he has such difficultly sucking and swallowing, and we’re pretty sure most of his food ended up in his lungs (which is likely the cause of the pneumonia in the first place). The orphanage was so great at attending to him; they sent over a "mother" to stay with him during his entire hospital stay. It was sad to say goodbye; he was so clearly sick and we would have done anything to try and take some of his pain away. The next day, we went back to the hospital and to our surprise, Elshaday was in the same room we had initially left him in. He was being treated, we were told, with antibiotics. Unfortunately, no G tube. We were still hoping, though. The next few days passed, and Elshaday was brought back to Kebebtsehay while we were there. No signs that he ever received his G tube. He was seeming to feel better, though. The other two, Baletta and Yordi, received the prescriptions needed for braces and Keely was able to have them evaluated at the clinic and the appointment was set for when the braces would be made. The appointment was a few days ago, and we are anxiously awaiting to hear how it went.
We were able to get Addisa to her final neurologist appointment to interpret the CT scan results. As we has feared, according to Ethiopian medicine, the damage was done and there was nothing that could be done for her. The neurologist explained that since her skull sutures were already "closed" (not exactly closed, they had formed overtop of each other instead of forming together and fusing in a smooth manner), no procedures would be able to help her condition. He recommended physical therapy to try and optimize her ability. We talked to Alex who spends time at Kebebtsehay with Yordi each morning making sure he gets out of his crib about some things that would be good for her. We know Alex will take good care of her. He’s so concerned about their well being and so dedicated to making sure they are all taken care of. Keely put together a "PT kit" for him before we left to help him continue some of the things we were doing, too. There were things for him to do measurements, explanations of exercises, tools to fix the chairs if they broke...we left all sorts of stuff that hopefully he’ll be able to use!
Our last night was the most difficult we had...more difficult that we could have ever imagined. We had gotten to know these kids, the caregivers, our friends in Ethiopia. We built relationships and trust and genuinely love these people. There were LOTS of tears. Only a few of the little ones seemed to understand that something was changing with our goodbyes, but all of the older kids, who have seen people come and go so often in their lives, knew what it meant that we were leaving. The caregivers offered us dinner and a coffee ceremony on our final night, which was so thoughtful. We spent this quiet time with the caregivers, reflecting on our past seven weeks and what we would miss the most. They told us what they learned, and it was so encouraging to see they were incorporating our ideas into their routines. Once we finished up with dinner, we walked outside. Mind you, this Monday night there was no electricity and it was getting pretty late, so it was close to pitch black minus the two candles we had been using to see. As we opened the door, we could hear all the older kids sitting on the steps singing/saying, "We love you Keellly!" over and over again. This name, Keelllly, is what Keely and I were both called, a bit of a hybrid of our names together because the sound of Kee is a little difficult for them to make. It was so touching, and made the tears flow even more. We really, really LOVE these kids.
Well, I think I may have covered most of the main things pretty thoroughly! Needless to say, we got more and more busy as time went on, and although we were there seven weeks, we could still be just as busy seven months later. There is just so much need and so many different things we can do to help these kids who really need the love and support we can offer. There just aren’t words for me to describe our overall trip. It was amazing, life-changing, encouraging, saddening, full of laughter and love and tears and experiences. We hope we impacted those we interacted with, because we know they touched our lives forever. We love Ethiopia; the country, the people. It was so hard to leave, but we are hopeful it won’t be too long until we can return again. Again, thank YOU for all your support for Superkids and Gladney. We couldn’t have done it without you. Signing out, for now, but not forever.